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Why firemen get sore feet…

by David Pope

“Firemen must get sore feet” was the way my four year old son started the conversation while looking at pictures of firemen. Interesting observation, and I wondered where it came from. He went on to explain that firemen are always wearing boots, which will make their feet “floppy” as he so aptly put it. “Their feet will get weaker and then their feet will get sore” he continued to explain, so they “should be wearing Dunlop Volleys like I do, so their feet can get stronger”.

That’s great reasoning, and I’m happy my four year old “gets it” about supportive footwear.

Physiotherapists are regularly asked by their patients about the best type of footwear, and it seems we are slowly making the transition from the myths sold to us by large shoe manufacturers and podiatrists about needing supportive footwear, to understanding that the foot is supported by muscles that can be strengthened like any other set of muscles, that we need to strengthen and load the foot to make it less susceptible to injury.

Supportive footwear and orthotics can be looked at like a brace, helpful in the short term to offload overloaded tissues, but we need to transition away from them to make a full recovery. Just like we wouldn’t want to wear a lumbopelvic support belt for ever, it’s important to get into comfortable, flexible, non supportive shoes. Kids on the other hand, should not be subjected to thick soled, supportive, horrible shoes at any point in time, whether the shoe store has labelled them an “overpronator” or schools are telling you that is what they need to wear, or not. Get their feet strong and flexible from an early age so you can set them up for a lifetime of healthy feet.

What about adults? This is also a good time to point out for most of us, that a transition period from your ultrasupportive shoe to something flexible, and non supportive should be done progressively, not with a “diving into the deep end” kind of approach – say over the period of a year. If you are coming from an ultra-supportive shoe, you can start with short periods in a neutral shoe, gradually increasing the time and activities in it, before moving to something even less supportive, and eventually, unless you are a firefighter or live in the Arctic, something close to barefoot.

I’m still not convinced firemen should wear Dunlop Volleys when fighting fires, but maybe there is some space for them to wear less supportive footwear outside of work so they don’t get “floppy feet”. What do you think?

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